RONAN — Monday morning at Ronan High School felt like any other day, and ag mechanics teacher Casey Lunceford had only one thing on his mind.
“I was just trying to get caught up before going to the National FFA convention,” he told MTN News.
Interrupting his thoughts of FFA field trips came a remarkable surprise. During 5th period, students and staff flooded the gymnasium for a special presentation.
Led by the principal, Lunceford was named the winner of a $50,000 national teaching prize for his excellence in skilled trades education. His mother and daughter were also in on the surprise, ushering in the giant check and prize toolbox.
“Yeah, I’m freaking out a little bit,” laughed Lunceford.
Chosen from a pool of 700 applicants, Lunceford is the first in Montana history to earn this Harbor Freight Tools award. He called it a long shot, but his students saw it coming from a mile away.
“He's just out there trying to help people do their best,” said sophomore Coleton Sherman.
His classmate, junior Gunnar Lahaug echoing, “Whenever our family needs anything or anyone else's family in the chapter needs anything, he's always there. He's probably, honestly, the most helpful person you will ever meet in your life. It's something else.”
Lunceford will take home $15,000 of the prize fund, and the school’s skilled trades program will receive the other $35,000.
“We’ve been talking about the award and I’ve been doing a little dreaming with the kids, you know, in hopes that we could get it, and some of the stuff is real basic, like just making sure everybody has their own safety goggles and their own coveralls, things like that, but some of the stuff is introducing new things like machining, which we have never done before,” said Lunceford.
Leaving school with one of those checks you only ever see on television, Lunceford thought of students like Coleton and Gunnar and the impact this award can have on tomorrow’s trade workers.
“I want to go to a trade school for diesel, then I want to take over my father’s farm,” said Coleton.
“I’d like to go into the mechanics field, I'd like to become a diesel mechanic,” said Gunnar.
According to Lunceford, “Having those tools here at the school is going to make a big difference for them to get started.”